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10 Tips For Holiday Entertaining

holiday buffet
holiday buffet
Flickr/burningkarma

That glass of bubbly got you in an ebullient mood, so you invited 20 people to your place for a little holiday party. Don't panic, experts are here to help. Just think of your gathering like a theatrical production -- plus food -- and you'll have a better go at it.

That's how Lisa Field, a former theater major and founder of Catering by Field, approaches her catering gigs. Field, who created the "country food" menu for Britney Spears' wedding to Kevin Federline, offers other tips for holiday entertaining. 10 tips for party planning, after the jump:

1. Mull it over. When you take time to gather your thoughts and hopes, you're more likely to have your ideas crystallize into a theme.

2. Balance the menu. When you start thinking about crowd-pleasing favorites, it's easy to tip toward carbs and starchy comfort foods. Don't forget to balance the meal with protein, fruits, vegetables and flavors that provide variety.

3. Line up those tunes. "Music will fill an empty space so that you don't feel alone," says Field.

4. Lighting is essential to atmosphere, so gather up your candles (a mix of votives, pillars and tapers is nice) and dim the lights for an evening party.

5. Rent-a-bar: If you need a little help to create the right atmosphere, or to fill out the seating options, call on a party supply house to rent extra chairs, tables, or even rugs, heaters or a portable bar.

6. Make a specialty drink that matches your theme. "It makes it so festive," says Field. A pitcher of premixed cocktails, situated prominently in your party space, makes it easier to offer everyone a sample.

7. Adaptive reuse also applies to your tabletop items. Shot glasses are great for showcasing small tastes of layered desserts, such as Field's riff on strawberry shortcake, a pretty stack of meringue, mascarpone, pound cake and strawberries macerated in brown sugar and sherry.

8. Think mini. Tinier tastes means no one has to talk or air kiss around a big mouthful. Field is especially fond of mini sandwiches and all manner of sliders (lamb, kobe or cheeseburgers). She uses King's Hawaiian dinner rolls for sandwiches and sliders, but many stores now offer mini hamburger buns, pita bread and bagels.

9. If you hire waiters, allow them to dress more casually to give the party a more relaxed feel. Dressy jeans and white shirts are the new norm.

10. If you have a favorite restaurant, borrow a few ideas from their menus. Field says at-home parties not only have embraced the slider, but also gastropub fare, small plates and tapas menus. "People want to follow trends in restaurants when they cater at home."

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